Pavan Sukhdev has a fascinating TED Talk on the subject of putting value to nature. He uses economics to explore the value of Earth’s assets, and puts many practices in perspective in terms of their overall economic cost. The calculation factors in the commercial value vs. the properties of nature that are of value to us.
Sukhdev is a banker who works for Deutsche Bank, and has developed a system of green accounting. He took a sabbatical from Deutsche Bank to write to important report. For UNEP, his “Green Economy Report” synthesized years of research to show that environmentally sound development is an engine for growing wealth and creating employment instead of a barrier to growth. The TEEB report (formally “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”) counts the global economic benefits of biodiversity, and encourages countries to develop and publish “Natural capital accounts” tracking the value of plants, animal, water and other “natural wealth” alongside traditional financial measures.
The UN has set up a program called WAVES (Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services) that takes a broad look at the value of natural capital. Sukhdeve has taken calculations of tea production in India to take a deep look at this agricultural business sector and its benefits and impacts.
The Institute of Charted Accountants in the UK have set up an international coalition to take a look at the social value of business in terms of the cost of their externalities (or their business costs that have an environmental impact).
I urge you to watch this 16-minute video.